Secret Six

Secret Six

by Edward J. Jr. Renehan
     
 

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Most Americans know that John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia — a raid he believed would ignite a bloody slave revolution — was one of the events that sparked the Civil War. But very few know the story of how Brown was covertly aided by a circle of prosperous and privileged Northeasterners who supplied him with money and weapons, and, before the

Overview

Most Americans know that John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia — a raid he believed would ignite a bloody slave revolution — was one of the events that sparked the Civil War. But very few know the story of how Brown was covertly aided by a circle of prosperous and privileged Northeasterners who supplied him with money and weapons, and, before the raid, even hid him in their homes while authorities sought Brown on a murder charge. These men called themselves the Secret Six.

The Secret Six included Thomas Wentworth Higginson, minister, author, and editor of the Atlantic Monthly; Samuel Howe, world-famous physician; Theodore Parker, the Unitarian minister whose rhetoric helped shape Lincoln's Gettysburg Address; Franklin Sanborn, an educator and close friend of Emerson and Thoreau; and the immensely wealthy Gerrit Smith and George Luther Stearns.

The existence of the Six has been known to scholars, but there has never been a book devoted to them. Now, drawing on archives from Boston to Kansas, Edward J. Renehan, Jr., has created a vivid portrait of this unlikely cabal, showing how six pillars of the establishment came to believe that armed conflict was necessary in order to purge the United States of a government-sanctioned evil, slavery. The messianic zealot Brown — also brilliantly portrayed-streaked across their path like a meteor. Renehan traces how the Six became involved with Brown, and how their lives were forever changed by the events at Harpers Ferry and the war they helped to start.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Renehan provides a significant addition to the literature on abolitionism in this study of six prominent Northerners who supported and financed John Brown's 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, Va. (now W.Va.). Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Theodore Parker, Samuel Howe, Gerrit Smith, Franklin Sanborn and George Luther Stearns were all men of learning, wealth and status who seemed to inhabit a different world than the rough-hewn Brown. They shared with him, however, an idealistic hatred of slavery and the growing belief that the evil could be purged only by direct action. In the aftermath of the mission's failure, they successfully distanced themselves from the venture, at least publicly. Nevertheless, Renehan establishes the abolitionist movement's essential unity and how Brown and his advocates, willing to use violence, helped push the country toward civil war. Photos. (May)
Library Journal
When John Brown was captured after his raid on Harper's Ferry, letters were found from prominent citizens who had been his financial backers since his days in Kansas. The Secret Six included Thomas W. Higgins, publisher of Atlantic Monthly, and other well-to-do men of Boston and New York, all of whom wished anonymity. Their names were published shortly after the raid, prompting two of the six to run to Canada and one to go insane; all concerned thereafter distanced themselves from Brown for fear of being convicted of treason. Renehan (John Burroughs: An American Naturalist, LJ 11/15/92) describes how these pillars of society, with their romantic notions about war, decided after the Fugitive Slave Act and other proslavery decisions that armed conflict was necessary to end slavery. Brown was a violent man with a history of fraud and failed ventures, but he was also a devout abolitionist and a persuasive speaker. His raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859 failed, but it did feed the flames that erupted into civil war. This well-researched book about that turbulent time is strongly recommended for serious collections.-Robert C. Moore, DuPont Merck Pharmaceutical Co. Information Svcs., N. Billerica, Mass.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781570031816
Publisher:
University of South Carolina Press
Publication date:
04/01/1997
Edition description:
REPRINT
Pages:
324
Sales rank:
1,057,497
Product dimensions:
6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.68(d)

Meet the Author

Edward J. Renehan, Jr., is the author of John Burroughs: An American Naturalist and is a contributor to The American Scholar and other publications. He lives in North Kingstown, Rhode Island.

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